Sunday, April 13, 2014

My Itch Has Been Scratched

Yesterday (Saturday) I took advantage of the beautiful weather and went back to SoHo. I brought my Leica 35mm f2 lens with me and stopped into the Leica store to take the Leica M Monochrome out for a test run, along with my Fuji X-T1 and 23mm lens so that I could take comparable images at the same focal length. I tried as best as I could to use the same ISO, shutter and aperture settings for both cameras.

The hype about the monochrome is that Leica removed the Bayer filter array from in front of the sensor, so that no color information is present in the image. By so doing, each pixel is receiving the light and measuring one of 256 tones of grayscale, so when the RAW (Leica saves the information in the Adobe DNG format) data is stored as a b/w image. The Fuji RAW data is uploaded as a RAF file, but I automatically convert to DNG on import (and save the RAF file to a different location).

Comparing the two images presents some challenges. I didn't want to compare b/w to color, so how to de-colorize the Fuji image became an issue. Each conversion method has its advantages and disadvantages. My usual workflow is to use the Nik Silver Efex Pro 2 plugin, but for this comparison I chose to simply desaturate the Fuji images in Lightroom. That processing tends to flatten out the contrast a bit, but as I said, there's downsides to every method. I selected just two images to look at. The day was bright and sunny. The first was taken with no heavy shadows but also no direct sunlight. The second was in sunlight.

The First shot:
X-T1



M Monochrome



Second shot:
X-T1





M Monochrome




I had to use 100% magnification to look at the sharpness and acuity, but in both cases the X-T1 image is superior by a tiny margin. The real question for me was in dynamic range, since that's where removing the color Bayer filter would make the Leica image stand out. In both cases the images look very close. And considering that desaturation reduced the contrast on the Fuji images, the Leica shots both look rather flat to me.

Both images in both cases would undoubtedly pop much more with simple Lightroom processing. But the point of the test was to compare the RAW images as equally as possible. The Fuji images especially would come to life much more when processed in Silver Efex Pro since that plugin, after b/w conversion, accesses all the color information of the original file to allow for very sophisticated adjustments.

Leica cameras are very expensive. The current Leica M (color filter in tact) sells for $7000, and the monochrome (without the Bayer filter - after all, less is more) for $8000. For $6700 difference in price between the Fuji and Leica I'd want to see a difference that would literally knock me on my ass. It didn't. Far from it. I think this is simply an example of the Emporer's New Clothes syndrome. I'm sure there are many who would disagree. So be it. Good for them. I don't want to hear about it.

I had an itch.
I scratched it.
It felt so good.
Now it's gone and I saved myself $8000.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Allergy Season

It's not hay fever. It's just an itch that keeps on itching. And it's not going to stop till I scratch it. I stopped into the Leica Store on West Broadway to look at the different options that are available full frame. The M Monochrome looks really yummie. So, either Saturday or later in the week I'm going to bring my Leica 35mm f2 lens with me and take the camera out for a test run. Then I can take the SD card home, plug it into my software, and be either over or under-awed. In either case my itch will be assuaged, and I'll either plan to purchase the camera or forget about it, done, for eternity (maybe).

Now that the weather has become so spectacular in New York, I plan to be out shooting often. So I need to get caught up on my cataloguing and processing. I've already got several weeks of shooting to catch up on, and it's only going to get worse. So here's a set of random shots from the past week.

Women, expressive hand gestures, wild hair, cigar smoke, the city is jumpin' with stuff:





Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Shooting With my two X's

If it were my two exes, the title might have been 'Shooting my two exes. But the title refers to my two Fuji X cameras - the X-Pro1 and the X-T1. The weather on Monday was perfect for shooting. The light was soft and there was a breeze to help things look more dynamic. I took a long walk from Penn Station up and around and back down to Penn Station - about 5 miles.

It's been said so many times before, but bears saying again. The camera is just a tool. It's a box made of plastic or metal with some sophisticated mechanics and electronics. I need to say that for myself because to be honest, when I read on the Fuji Rumors site about a whisper that the X-Pro2 could be a full frame camera (for which the current x-mount lenses will not fit) my brain and guts started to churn - OMG what to do? Then I got out to shoot for a couple of days. The two cameras I have now feel great in my hands, they and the lenses I have work well for the type of shooting I do, and the image quality is really fine. I'm good with that.

But .... there's a tug of war about which body to pick up. I love the rangefinder feel of the X-Pro1, and the optical viewfinder works great on the street. I love the compactness of the X-T1 and the electronic viewfinder doesn't give me what the OVF does, but it has its own merits. And the X-T1 responds much faster. As I've worked the cameras in tandem, their strengths and weakness become clearer and I've refined my expectations of the tasks that each performs.

The first three shots were taken with the X-Pro1 and the 14mm lens. The fourth image was with the X-T1 and the 10-24mm zoom lens. When I had my Nikon D700 I used a full frame 14-24mm zoom, but hardly ever shot at the super wide angle focal lengths. With the 10-24mm zoom on the X-T1 those focal lengths just seem so much ore natural. The lens has no barrel or pincushion distortion, but shooting super wide naturally elongates elements of the image near the edges, which can be mitigated only slightly. But the lens is a killer! There will be more to come.

The LOOK (1):



The LOOK (2):



The LOOK (3):



Lock Step:


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

I Was Framed!

Last Friday I took my Fuji X-T1 in to the repair facility in New Jersey to have a light-leak defect repaired. Today was the first day I had to get out and shoot with it. The fix for the problem must have required the settings to revert back to default. So re-customizing the camera to my preferences was a process of trial and error. By the end of the afternoon I thought I'd managed to get everything back to my personal settings .... except for one. I always shoot RAW, but the default setting for the camera is for 'fine' JPG. I didn't realize there was a problem until I loaded the images from the SD card into my Lightroom catalog. This is the first time since I've been shooting with either the X-Pro1 or the X-T1 that I shot JPG. This image is SOOC (straight out of the camera) with no post-processing.




I'm quite impressed. Nice to know I can get this kind of quality without having to shoot RAW. But I'm still going to shoot RAW anyway. I like to work with as much data as possible.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Some Shots on a Cold Spring Day In NYC

Too cold in NYC yesterday to have much fun on the street shooting. If this were January I'd have been OK with it, but the end of March?

So I took a bus, shoot me!



Leaning into the wind:



Don't you have anything better to do but sit out here in this cold and annoy people?



Wrong finger, babe:


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Garry Winogrand Retrospective

I had the very good fortune to view the Garry Winogrand retrospective that is currently on exhibit at the National Gallery in Washington D.C. The show originated in San Fransisco, and after Washington will travel to the Metropolitan Museum in NYC, then on to Paris and Madrid. Presented as part of the exhibit in Washington was a twenty minute video excerpted from a talk that Winogrand gave at Rice University in Texas. I first found the excerpt on YouTube, but after some searching discovered the entire talk. Winogrand is very outspoken about his estimation of Robert Frank and Walker Evans, and about his disdain for Bruce Davidson - which was fascinating to discover. There are gems and jewels throughout the more than 100 minutes of the video, well worth the investment of time to watch.

There is an extensive book available on Amazon covering the show, but as usual, actually seeing the actual prints in the show is a much more moving experience. There are images in the book that were less than impressive, but the actual prints look much more dramatic. And after seeing the video I understand how drama and visual poetry play an integral role in Winogrand's work.

Last week while visiting one of my usual spots for street photography, I ran into a fellow streettog and we both saw the same image at the same time. Interesting how different our takes on the moment were. Here's mine -




Monday, March 24, 2014

Almost, But Not Quite .... Spring

When, oh when, is it going to get here! I was in Washington D.C. over the weekend and Saturday was absolutely glorious, as it was in NYC (so I heard). Last week I was on the streets on a bitter cold day, but just couldn't deal with it today. One more blast of weather Tuesday night and then no more. Right?

Here's some couples I caught on that cold day last week.